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Day program helps children with FASD

The Brandon Sun - 2/12/2018

A local advocate for people with fetal alcohol spectrum disorder (FASD) is spreading the word about her children's day program.

Melissa McArthur Borkent held a mock demonstration of her free monthly program at the Brandon Friendship Centre on Friday for a group of a half dozen people to explain what her classes can do for children with FASD.

With the right information and enough support, Borkent said the hope is families who have children with FASD know they don't have to go through it alone.

"The kids here are finding friends," she said. "Everyone clicks, everyone gets along, they really accept each other."

Borkent is the local facilitator for Stepping Out on Saturdays (SOS) Manitoba, a day respite camp for children who are diagnosed with FASD.

FASD refers to the range of effects that can occur in an individual whose mother drank alcohol while pregnant.

It is often used as an umbrella term for fetal alcohol syndrome, partial fetal alcohol syndrome and alcohol related neuro-developmental disorder, and is often referred to as a hidden or invisible disability considering most people affected by it do not show any noticeable physical features.

Some, however, do develop physical symptoms, such as arthritis or degenerative diseases, and individuals with FASD are more likely to have trouble with memory, abstract thinking and handling different sensations at the same time.

Borkent said the aim of the program is to help develop the social skills of each child using activities such as "circle time" and outdoor play, and the help of different tools, like ear defenders, to help a child cope with loud noises, for example.

SOS is offered to children between the ages of five and 12 and is funded by Manitoba Child and Family Services.

Programs are held once a month for five hours each and are currently offered in Brandon, Bloodvein, Selkirk, Thompson and Winnipeg.

Renee Martens, diagnostic services's FASD co-ordinator for Prairie Mountain Health, said the program is an important part of helping children with FASD.

"I think attitudes are changing, but it's slow to happen because there is a lot of stigma," she said.

Borkent said she too recognizes the stigma attached to FASD.

Her adopted son was diagnosed with FASD before he was five and Borkent said she believes in what the SOS program can offer to other children because of how it has worked in her own life.

"I want to give them the same opportunities that my kid has had," she said.

Brandon's day program currently has nine children registered, but could accommodate up to 18, Borkent said.

The program had its budget cut by 50 per cent recently to just under $30,000 because of low enrolment. That money, Borkent said, is used to cover the costs of staffing, supplies and training.

The Friendship Centre provides the SOS program with free space and despite the cut, Borkent said she believes in the long-term effects that programs such as SOS can have on a child.

"I can't stress how much (that), yes, this is my job, but this is my life."


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